Red Hook WaterStories

Dear OHNY 2016 visitors, the “Red Hook WaterStories” (RHWS) site will be live and linked here by the time you come to Red Hook on Sunday 10/16 to tour the ship MARY A. WHALEN

PortSide NewYork “Red Hook WaterStories” (RHWS), tells the history of Red Hook, Brooklyn via a water theme.  In microcosm, this tells New York City's maritime story. The powerful role of the waterfront in New York City was played out, and is still being played out, in Red Hook -- this being a peninsula built by filling swamp with a long history and living present as a maritime center. 

RHWS is about - and for - fascinating Red Hook, Brooklyn! RHWS has benefits for visitors and locals. RHWS combines history, mapping, cultural tourism and resiliency - as in helping Red Hook prepare for future floods. Our flagship MARY A. WHALEN is included for having a long Red Hook pedigree.  We are recording oral histories, researching original sources, and contacting museum and library archives to access their collections.

Support our RHWS campaign

Click on the photo at right


  • a multimedia map with contemporary and historic images, texts, video, oral history files, and links to art and literature inspired by Red Hook's waterfront
  • a hard copy visitor guide, and signs with QR codes around the neighborhood alerting people to the existence of that website. 
  • a growing archive of oral histories


  • explains contemporary and historic maritime activities and shows their relationship to the larger community
  • boosts cultural tourism: attract visitors by telling local history of the place, support retail establishments and hotels
  • helps inspire community-sensitive investment
  • creates content for school curricula 
  • fosters local pride and greater understanding within the community 


RHWS will tell forgotten stories of Red Hook's greatness: how the 1840s creation of Atlantic Dock triggered massive port development and the urbanization of Red Hook to such a degree that it convinced many that Brooklyn was on its way to becoming a significant city.  How the port of Brooklyn was a place of international importance and the best in the region from the mid-1800’s until the mid 1900’s and its heart was in Red Hook. RHWS will describe the evolution of Red Hook from Native American fishing grounds, to 150 years where tide mill ponds and agriculture defined this place, until the building of Atlantic Dock (now called Atlantic Basin, where we are located).  RHWS will provide the origin to many street names, describe the history of buildings with a maritime past, reveal harbor connections to unexpected things, and explain contemporary maritime activities on shore and visible from shore. The story also includes major ethnic groups associated with the waterfront, waterfront shantytowns and major trends in real estate development.  The content we will make public in 2016 can be the basis for school curricula, and can be retooled for fun activities such as scavenger hunts or bar trivia nights.

Resiliency Superstorm Sandy was a WaterStory of the darkest sort, so an important goal of RHWS is to help the Red Hook shoreside community prepare better for floods.  PortSide will explain marine weather to help people understand tides and flood surges.  We will share info on how buried streams surged back to life during Superstorm Sandy, Sandy flood levels, and the Ready Red Hook emergency plan. All this builds on our Sandy preparedness and recovery work that won us a White House award in 2013. See related info on our on our blog and website tabs "Recovery + Resiliency." 

Guides to the area hook created by portside, singly or in partnership

Guides to the area hook created by portside, singly or in partnership

our related prior experience

PortSide has been producing RHWS in many ways since we were founded in 2005. Prior WaterStories products have included visitor guides, walking tours, book readings and talks, and extensive content on social media (webpages, blogposts, Facebook and Twitter).  

In Valentino Park, PortSide WaterStories content is part of the plan to improve the BoatBox used by the Red Hook Boaters and convert the plain container used by the Red Hook Boaters into a welcoming outdoor room that is also an educational center.  Progress on the BoatBox was delayed by PortSide's urgent need in 2011 to find a new home (resolved May 2015) and hurricane Sandy in October 2012.


WaterStories aims to correct popular false histories of Red Hook. For example, the movie "On the Waterfront" is not about Red Hook per se, though Red Hook dockworkers also suffered the shape up, violence and a code of silence. The iconic Marlon Brando movie is based closely on the life of a crusading priest Father "Pete" Corridan and real events on the Irish working waterfront of Manhattan's west side. More 


This project is supported in part by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and funding from NYC Councilman Carlos Menchaca and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs.



Peter Rothenberg leads the Red Hook WaterStories team. He is a history curator and native of Park Slope, Brooklyn. He was the curator of the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts in Madison, NJ and prior to that of the New York Fire Museum. He is co-author the book: FDNY: An Illustrated History of the Fire Department of the City of New York. Peter holds a Bachelors of Arts in Anthropology and a Master's Degree in American History and Museum Studies.

Melinda Boros holds a BA in Sociology and is licensed in Mechanical Engineering Design. She has worked as a freelance graphic designer and photographer and was the exhibition designer for the Marton Aron Museum. She is a native of Transylvania, Romania and moved to NYC in 1998 and found Red Hook soon after she arrived. Thanks to photographing urban landscapes along NYC’s waterways, she became interested in how places are layered with memories and histories. Her project Red Hook Memories combined photographs of the area with recollections of Red Hookers from the lively longshoreman era of the 1940s' and 50’s. Her fondness of Red Hook brought her to PortSide NewYork, and she's truly happy to be back to her 'origins' in this city and contribute to Red Hook WaterStories.

Dan Goncharoff does deep research on select topics, James Stranahan being one of his favorites.  

Jenny Kane received a BA in history Harvard and an MA in Media Studies from the New School. She completed an Oral History Summer Intensive workshop in Hudson, NY.  She works as a union electrician in the film industry. She is recording and editing oral histories for Red Hook WaterStories. She is PortSide NewYork’s longest running volunteer, beginning with first public tour of the MARY A. WHALEN for OHNY in October 2006. She loves hearing people’s stories and looks forward to collecting more for Red Hook WaterStories.

David Levine has joined PortSide to work on direct the Red Hook WaterStories content management, provide technical guidance, feed Chiclet and move docklines. He has now lived more years in Brooklyn than anywhere else. A traveler, sailor, cyclist, pianist, boulevardier, David had a twenty-five year career in programming, software architecture, Information architecture, content modelling and content management. 

Carolina Salguero is the Founder & President of PortSide NewYork. Her extensive New York waterfront reporting since 1998 gives her a database of maritime contacts and Red Hook old-timers who provide perspectives on the past and present harbor. She provides the framework for Red Hook WaterStories and participates in many interviews.  She has written some of the Essays and provided many photographs. 

Barbara Wye graduated Cum Laude studying Anthropology and Digital Media Design at Lake Forest College. She has worked in Jamaica, Tanzania, Italy and Spain on archeology, historic preservation, community organizing on behalf of preservation, and teaching English.  She grew up around boats on the Rhode Island waterfront and has a passion for maritime history. Currently, she is working on Red Hook WaterStories graphic design and event planning. 

John Weaver, whose father-in-law was a Captain of the MARY A. WHALEN for twenty years, has donated many artifacts and provided many memories. His experience producing TV and advertising has him shooting video interviews for RHWS. 

Red Hook WaterStories advisors

Norman Brouwer is a world-renowned authority on historic ships.  He is a maritime historian, lecturer, author of The International Register of Historic Ships, and the former librarian, archivist and curator of ships at South Street Seaport Museum. He serves as a board member of several non-for-profit ship preservation projects, and his meticulous research and distinguished writing have earned listings on the National Register of Historic Places for several ships. 

Eymund Diegel has worked on a wide range of urban planning and environmental projects. His extensive watershed planning experience includes working on NYC’s stormwater management bluebelt plan. He has developing city wide models and maps of historical wetlands, streams, and landscape changes and. is an expert on reducing urban stormwater runoff.  Eymund’s work on researching buried NYC waterways has been extensively covered in the media.  He is also a specialist in GIS computer programs and has collected, created and analyzed planning data for regional, urban and rural studies. Historic map georeferencing or “rubber stretching” of old maps to match current conditions is another of his specialities. Eymund has worked on archeological surveys and polluted site clean ups, using LIDAR digital elevation models to track landscape changes. Trained as an architect, he has built interactive 3d digital models for zoning bulk and shadow studies.  

Brian McCormick is known as co-founder of Brooklyn Greenway. He is also a passionate amateur historian who has amassed a collection of historical papers that fills 30 banker boxes and a library of all the period histories of Brooklyn. He has read the histories and conducted archeological research in the area. He is deeply knowledgeable about the evolution of Red Hook in particular.

Marilyn Oliva, is an advisor to Red Hook WaterStories. She a long-time resident of Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, has a PhD in Medieval History from Fordham University where she taught for 23 years.  After leaving Fordham, she received an MLS in Library Science and Information Technology with a Certificate in Archives Management from PRATT. As an historian and archivist she has processed the private papers of Roy Cohn and designed and produced an oral history project for Physicians for Human Rights. She is active in her community. She served on the board of Community Board Six for 6 years and as a member of several of its committees including Waterfront Development and Parks. She chaired the Parks committee for 4 years. She is a consultant to Red Hook WaterStories advising on historical research and archives management.

Johnathan Thayer is an advisor to Red Hook WaterStories. He is the Coordinator of the Archives and Preservation of Cultural Materials Certificate program at the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies, Queens College, CUNY. He is also the Senior Archivist at the Seamen’s Church Institute of NY & NJ. His doctoral research in History at the CUNY Graduate Center focuses on the history of merchant seamen in the Port of New York.

Red Hook WaterStories interns

Regina Carra is a graduate student at CUNY Queens College studying Library Science and History. In the future, she hopes to be an archivist at a cultural heritage institution or university. Originally from Binghamton, NY, her studies, as well as her archives work and internship experiences in have taken her all over New York State, and even to Everglades National Park in Florida. In 2015 she completed her undergraduate education at SUNY Geneseo. She holds a BA in History with double minors in American Studies and Music. 

Ivy Ann Rosado is a senior at Hunter College with double major in Urban Studies & Psychology. Her interests include learning about how people live in cities and how cities handle issues of housing, poverty, and sustainability. Her parents are Domincan and she speaks Spanish and French. Ivy has done outreach for the non-profit organization L.O.V.E. Mentoring and marketing for the Garden School Writing Project. She plans to receive her Masters of Social Work in Community Planning and Organizing. She is working on research and community outreach for Red Hook WaterStories.  

Justin Donaldson is a student at SUNY Geneseo and will graduate in May 2017 with a BA in History. His PortSide internship period started summer 2016 and will run through the academic year 2016-2017 and into summer 2017. He is interested in sustainable real estate and tourism.  SUNY Geneseo has a satellite location in Red Hook; and during his senior year, Justin will be creating two tourism products related to Red Hook and Geneseo. One product be a guide to Geneseo for tourists, residents and SUNY students that has a subgoal of improving town-gown relations. The other product is a walking/biking tour to Red Hook that would serve to introduce SUNY students who come to the satellite location here.  PortSide and Justin are working together to create that Red Hook tour which would become part of Red Hook WaterStories.



Cultural tourism links heritage to future
Finlay's Stores, Atlantic Basin

Finlay's Stores, Atlantic Basin



Red hook hot dog cart

Red hook hot dog cart